6 Easy Ways to Lower Cholesterol Naturally
More than 100 million Americans have high cholesterol levels, which can contribute to a wide range of health problems including stroke and heart disease. While medication can help lower your cholesterol, there are also several lifestyle tweaks you can change right now that can make a big impact on your cholesterol levels. All five of these will also impact your weight, risk for chronic disease and overall health for the better, so they're worth incorporating into your life regardless.
Here are five research-backed methods for lowering your cholesterol naturally:
1. Stop cutting carbs
Consuming healthy, complex carbohydrates is a great way to lower your cholesterol naturally. Soluble fiber is only found in carbohydrate foods like whole grains, fruit and starchy veggies, and it plays a major role in removing cholesterol from the body.
Research shows simply consuming 5-10g soluble fiber per day can lower your total and LDL-cholesterol between 5-11 points. Try adding a quarter-cup of chickpeas to your favorite salad and enjoying some berries with your morning plate of eggs or yogurt to start reaping the benefits.
2. Choose your fats wisely
You may think of saturated fat and trans fat as bad for your cholesterol but not all fats are bad. Some fats actually have been shown to lower them. Consuming more omega-3 fats found in fatty fish and flaxseed improves your "good" HDL cholesterol levels, which help prevent plaque build-up.
"We need fat in our diets, but the type of fat matters," says Gina Jones, M.S., RDN, LDN, a Cleveland-based dietitian. Unsaturated fats, particularly those found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and anchovies, are especially beneficial. A study published in the journal PLOS One found that people who consumed at least three servings of these types of fish each week had an increase in "good" HDL cholesterol, which is known to be protective for heart health.
Poly- and monounsaturated fats found in plant foods like avocados and nuts can also help reduce the "bad" cholesterol in your body. Plus, these foods also come packaged with fiber, antioxidants and phytosterols, which all assist in lowering cholesterol and protecting the body from inflammation.
3. Get moving
Your level of physical activity can actually have a huge impact on your cholesterol readings. One major review of related studies from the UKActive Research Institute found depending on the intensity of exercise, you can both raise "good" cholesterol and lower "bad" cholesterol.
Those with elevated cholesterol are advised to exercise five times per week for more than 30 minutes each time. This activity should include a mix of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise combined with moderate to high-intensity resistance training. Those with healthy cholesterol levels can aim for less intense exercise for optimal levels-a mix of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and low-intensity resistance training five times a week for 30 minutes or more.
Additionally, regular exercise can help you reach a healthy weight-which is another major contributor to lowering cholesterol. Win-win!
4. Try meditation
Heart-pumping exercise is a common cholesterol fix, but taking time to lower your heart rate through meditation shows promise as well. A 2020 observational study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that people who meditated were 35% less likely to have high cholesterol than those who didn't. The study didn't determine causation, or what type or frequency might be most beneficial, but experts believe that even 5 minutes of mindful meditation a day could help reduce stress and lower heart disease risk.
5. Watch your alcohol intake
The American Heart Association says if you do drink alcohol, men should consume no more than two drinks per day, and women should stop after one, as drinking too much alcohol can actually raise triglyceride levels in your blood-which are also monitored with your cholesterol levels to determine the health of your lipid profile.
The AHA also says drinking too much increases your risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure and increased calorie intake-all factors that impact cholesterol levels. The one exception here may be red wine-as studies show it has some heart-healthy antioxidant power-but you should still stick to the AHA's drinking recommendations.
6. Go with your gut
We are loving how widely available probiotic fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha have become as more research continues to highlight the importance of having a healthy gut. Not only is your microbiome responsible for improving digestion and boosting your immune system, it also can impact our cholesterol.
Research shows that the gut microbiome may have a strong influence on blood lipids. And probiotics—which can increase the number of beneficial bugs you have in your gastrointestinal tract—appear particularly promising. A 2018 meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials found that regular intake of probiotics reduced total cholesterol by an average of 13 mg/dL (a modest but not insignificant amount). While most of the research has used supplements (namely because it's a precise testing method), fermented foods like yogurt, tempeh, sauerkraut and kimchi are also likely beneficial. In one small clinical trial, participants' total cholesterol was reduced by 9 mg/dL, on average, after eating kimchi for just seven days.
The good bacteria found in probiotic foods help lower cholesterol levels, while kimchi in particular, contains compounds that can actually block cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Just be sure to watch out for salt and sugar content when buying probiotic foods, as many can be high in one or the other.